In the country we love by Diane Guerrero

There was an article in the San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper I glance at every day, about families in the Bay Area applying for dual citizenship for their American-born children at Mexican consulates. The fear of deportation has led them to plan for these emergency situations where the family has to be uprooted. It’s based partly on a misconception that US-born children won’t be allowed into Mexico without proper documents.

Reading the stories of the undocumented rushing to get Mexican citizenship for their kids made me angry and made me reflect on the story of Diane Guerrero, an actress on Orange is the New Black. She is an American citizen but her parents were undocumented immigrants from Colombia. And one day, when she was just 14, she returned home to find that they were gone. They had been taken by the immigrant authorities and were inmates in a detention centre.

Guerrero had to live with a family friend. Although they made her feel welcome, she was  always worried that she would do something to make them kick her out. She wasn’t an actual family member after all. And with everyone just barely making ends meet, an extra person in the house (even if her parents sent money) was difficult.

Guerrero applied to Boston Arts Academy, a public high school for visual and performing arts, and it was there she honed her performing skills. But her long-distance relationship with her family becomes even more fractured.

I love how Guerrero has become a fierce advocate for immigration. Guerrero is set to play an attorney defending undocumented immigrants. And the pilot sounds like it’s based on her story – that the attorney is the child of undocumented parents.

In The Country We Love, co-written by Michelle Burford, has a very casual tone of voice. I can imagine Guerrero talking as I read it. And I have the feeling it would be quite a good audiobook to listen to.

TLC Book Tours: Run the World by Becky Wade

Run the World cover

Let’s begin at the beginning. Here is where I tell you I don’t run.

(And there you go, with a horrified “what?” and go find a book blogger-runner whose review you’d rather read.)

Yes I don’t run but I sometimes read running-related things. So this is a review from a non-runner’s point of view. I hope you will bear with me!

So Becky Wade is an American. A young American runner. Who has never left the country. I always am fascinated by that. But that’s probably because the country I’m from is so tiny you can drive from one end to the other and still be in time for breakfast.

But Wade is a resourceful one. She gets hold of a yearlong fellowship (the Watson Fellowship) which gives its recipients money and then tells them to get lost. Really. As in they are not allowed to enter the US (or their home country if they’re not from the US) for a year. They don’t get a whole lot of money though so it’s not about living it up in fancy hotels but it’s enough to buy some plane tickets and do some traveling and pursue their interests. What a truly amazing thing to be able to do!

It is brave of her to do this. Not everyone would be willing to give up a year in which they could be starting a career for instance, which most college graduates are looking to do, or, in her case, putting her training on hold, to go out into the world for a year. When I first heard of this I had thought woah how fantastic, wish I could have done this! But as I thought about it more, traveling the world for a whole year isn’t easy. You have to be able to adapt to your always changing situation, to be ok with living out of hotels/motels/strangers’ homes. And be content living out of a backpack. I can imagine that being extroverted would really help too! (So not me).

Also here I should add that Wade was a very successful athlete already when she left on her yearlong adventure. She had multiple NCAA All-American Honours and two Olympic Trials qualifiers to her name. But she wasn’t contented with that. She wanted to learn how runners in other countries train.

So Wade wants to Run the World. She visits 22 countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Japan, Switzerland and more over 12 months.

Runners will definitely gain some insights from this book. When she runs with some Kenyans, they start off at a stroll, oh about 20 minutes or so, then a leisurely jog, not much faster than a walk, then all of a sudden, break into a run. That is, they run by feel and warm up naturally, something that Wade wasn’t used to at first. It is interesting to learn of how runners are so well-respected in Japan, how important races are broadcast on public TV, and some athletes and events can even bring Super Bowl-like ratings.

But non-runners like me will also find it a pretty good read as she delves into different cultures, learns about different cuisines around the world, and even provides some recipes from her new friends, like brown soda bread from Ireland, Rosti from Switzerland, and Anza biscuits.

I especially enjoyed reading about her stay in Ethiopia, where running is once again, by feel. Time, distances, speed is rarely predetermined. And the line leader uses snaps and finger points to warn of obstacles such as roots and cracks were in the way. And their coffee ceremonies, a wonderful tradition that revealed their communal culture.

I was a bit disappointed that her stay in Japan was mostly via Japanese expatriates. She did stay with a Japanese family in Kyoto  for a few nights but her experience in Japan was largely through the expat (i.e. white) scene. It sounds like it may have been hard for her to break into the Japanese running scene and that is a pity.

Five months after her year-long world adventure, Wade  won the California International Marathon in 2 hours, 30 minutes and 48 seconds, gaining her a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials and a sponsorship from Asics. So all that knowledge and insight she gained from her world tour may have helped in her success!

Run the World is a bit of a different read for me, and while I may not really fall into its target audience, it was an enjoyable read. It allowed me to marvel at the passion people have for running. And to realize that what had always seemed to me like a simple sport can differ in so many ways around the world. From the way warmups happen, to the food that fuels runners, to the different styles of running. It was definitely an eye-opener.

Go Becky!

tlc logo

I received this book for review from its publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour stops

Becky Wade AP photo by Deborah Kellogg-1Becky Wade is a professional long-distance runner who competes for Asics. At Rice University she was a four-time All-American and the winner of the Joyce Pounds Hardy Award, Rice’s highest athletic honor, and the Conference USA honoree for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Rice with a triple major in history, psychology, and sociology, Becky traveled the world on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship and visited 22 countries to explore long-distance running cultures.

In her 26.2-mile debut in December 2013, Becky won the California International Marathon, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Trials. Currently, she is fulfilling her dream of running professionally and chasing Olympic aspirations, while coaching and working part-time at a shelter for homeless youth.

Connect with Becky on Instagram and Twitter.


Funny in Farsi and Late for Tea at the Deer Palace


Funny in Farsi tells of Firoozeh Dumas’ move as a seven-year-old girl from Iran to the US in 1971, when her father was sent there by the National Iranian Oil Company for two years. They returned again for good.

Her collection of stories about her family is not just funny but also an interesting commentary about adjusting to life in the US, during an especially hard for Iranians – the hostage crisis and the revolution, during which her father loses his job and finds it difficult to find another.

“Overnight, Iranians in America became, to say the least, very unpopular. For some reason, many Americans began to think that all Iranians, despite outward appearances to the contrary, could at any given moment get angry and take prisoners. People always asked us what we thought of the hostage situation. ‘It’s awful,’ we always said. This reply was generally met with surprise. We were asked our opinion on the hostages so often that I started reminding people that they weren’t in our garage. My mother solved the problem by claiming to be from Russia or “Torekey”. Sometimes I’d just say, ‘Have you noticed how all the recent serial killers have been Americans? I won’t hold it against you.'”

Funny in Farsi was a quick, entertaining read. Dumas could probably have probed a little deeper into the politics at the heart of it all, but keeps mostly to the clash of cultures – not just American and Iranian, but also with French culture (she eventually marries a Frenchman):

“Being French in America is like having your hand stamped with one of those passes that allows you to get into everything. All Francois has to do is mention his obviously French name and people find him intriguing. It is assumed that he’s a sensitive, well-read intellectual, someone who, when not reciting Baudelaire, spends his days creating Impressionist paintings.”

As someone who moved somewhat recently to the US (although Singapore is probably far more similar to the US than to Iran), I could understand some of what her family was going through, like the celebration of culture-specific holidays – in her case Nowruz, a celebration of spring:

“No longer did we feel the excitement building toward the big day. No longer did we see people cleaning their drapes, buying new clothes, or sweeping their yards spotless. No longer did we prepare for an onslaught of visitors. Gone were the smells of pastries coming from every kitchen, gone were the purple hyacinths that decorated every house, gone were the strangers wishing us ‘Nowruz Mubarak’, ‘Happy New Year’. Gone was the excitement in the air.”

Sadly it’s the same for us and the Lunar New Year celebrations. Back in Singapore, we would indeed be buying new clothes, spring cleaning, baking up a storm, buying oranges by the boxes, decorating the house, in preparation for the friends and relatives coming by to visit. I tried to do a little here myself, spring cleaning for sure (during the 15-days of the New Year, traditionally you’re not supposed to clean house as it will ‘sweep’ the luck away), baking a little and putting up some decorations. Wee reader virtually offered his grandparents oranges via Skype and I made some cookies. But it’s so different being here without family around. I remember the huge celebrations growing up. My paternal grandparents would have a gigantic feast for the reunion dinner (Lunar New Year eve), and a lion dance troupe would be hired to come by on the first day. We would all be dressed up in brand new clothes, a little bag stuffed full of ang bao (red packets of money), another bag full of oranges to present to elders. And then we would nosh on all the different snacks and drinks at the various relatives’ houses we’d visit. What fun!

Of course Lunar New Year isn’t a vacation period here in the US (in Singapore, one would usually get the first two days off work), so it’s a typical working day. It’s also the husband’s busy season which means the likelihood of visiting Singapore at this time is very low!

Global Women of ColorThis is my twelfth read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge (challenge page).
firoozehFiroozeh Dumas was born in Abadan, Iran and moved to Whittier, California at the age of seven. After a two-year stay, she and her family moved back to Iran and lived in Ahvaz and Tehran. Two years later, they moved back to Whittier, then to Newport Beach. Firoozeh then attended UC Berkeley where she met and married a Frenchman.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America
Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, at Home and Abroad

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace traces the story of four generations of a prominent Iraqi family from the early 1900s till recent years, from their beginnings in Iraq to exile in London and Lebanon, and finally a return to their homeland. If Firoozeh Dumas’ book was fueled by the funny, then Tamara Chalabi’s was triggered by her anger.

Chalabi, daughter of the controversial politician Ahmad Chalabai, wanted to convey her feelings about her homeland

“I was angry at what I perceived initially as a country hurled back to the Middle Ages through misrule, neglect and sanctions, and a beaten people who had lost their voice long ago. I was also angry about what I saw as the expropriation of those people’s silent voices, and of Iraq as a land by the US civil administration and the international press to serve their own agendas, political and otherwise. They became the designated spokespeople for an Iraq they barely knew and didn’t care about, in the shadow of a greater preoccupation with the role of America in the region. They reduced Iraq to a desert of tanks, screaming women and barefoot children. The country’s ancient history and cultural output over millennia meant nothing to them. I tried to understand the silence of the Iraqis themselves – perhaps it was the consequence of enduring fear, or a habit developed as the result of decades of oppression; perhaps it was their unfamiliarity with the latest means of communication owning to those long years of sanctions, I didn’t know. One of Iraq’s burdens has always been the way it is presented to the outside world as patchy, Manichaean, extreme. It is a nation that is portrayed either through its politics, most notoriously through Saddam and his regime, or through its ancient and glorious history, but never through its people.”

While Chalabi was born in Beirut, Iraq has been in her mind since she was a child, with memories recounted by her relatives, especially her uncle Hassan. She first visited Iraq in 2003, ten days after Baghdad’s fall.

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace is part history, part memoir, discussing the fall of the Ottoman empire as witnessed by Chalabi’s great-grandfather, the ties with the British that her grandfather had, and the 1920s and 1930s social life and household customs as demonstrated by her grandmother Bibi, such a gem of a character, headstrong and prone to dramatic outbursts, and whom Chalabi tends to focus on.

This book is Iraqi history seen through the eyes of the Chalabi family, who have pretty much seen it all – royalty, politicking, intrigue, military coups, exile. But throughout all of that, their love for Iraq is unshakable.
Global Women of ColorThis is my thirteenth read for the Global Women of Colour Challenge (challenge page).

tamarachalabiTamara Chalabi has a PhD in history from Harvard University. Her first book, The Shi’is of Jabal’Amil and the New Lebanon: 1918–1943, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006. She has written for the Sunday Times, New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Slate and Prospect on war, culture and identity. She lives in London and Beirut.